Archive for the ‘Opinions’ Category

Message Perspectives: RightNow Technologies

Monday, October 18th, 2010

[Disclosure: RightNow flew me out to its annual summit and paid for my meals and lodging. The following represents my informed opinion, provided without request by the organization or anybody else.]

There are a few really huge names in CRM, but sometimes it’s the not-quite-as-huge names you need to look out for. While it would be disingenuous to suggest RightNow Technologies is anything other than big, the company is often overshadowed in the media by certain others (I’m thinking of that are more adept at controlling the conversation. I’d like to evaluate the offerings and the messaging of RightNow, divorced as much as possible from comparison to its rival.

I’d really like to do that, but I’ve got to be honest—I’d probably have to give up the attempt at some point. While RightNow doesn’t define itself in terms of, and its messaging places Salesforce as one of many competitors depending on the specifics of the engagement, Marc Benioff’s billion-dollar-plus concern is the first name most people think of when considering CRM in the cloud, socially enabled or otherwise. If there’s any company to compare to RightNow, it’s that one.

If time weren’t a factor, I’d delay this post until after Dreamforce—’s annual convention—early this December, and put the two companies head-to-head the way I did with Sage and Nimble. Waiting six weeks or more isn’t a great plan either, and it would let my fresh thoughts go to waste in the interim. I want to be fair to both companies, so here’s my plan: I will tell you about RightNow as planned, and revisit the topic after Dreamforce to provide updated insight on Both teams get a turn at bat, and players on either one are welcomed to comment and argue.

RightNow comes from a contact center background, and it shows in its approach to CRM. The message is about customer experience as enabled by CRM; CEO Greg Gianforte says the company’s mission is “to rid the world of bad experiences.” He doesn’t shy away from the CRM moniker, though, as many other vendors have done. Customers spend most of their lifecycle in the hands of customer service (what a surprise!), so it seems natural to base a CRM effort there. I respect this approach, though the history of CRM is sales force automation (SFA), something that’s clearly in’s DNA. If businesses exist to sell products and services to customers, SFA is what you want. If businesses exist to serve customers, then you start in the contact center with customer service and support.

I need to check my dates and figures to be sure, but I think was the first company, at least in this group of two, to make social media part of its message. The AppExchange is a community-driven marketplace, there are Salesforce integrations with social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and much of the newer functionality of Salesforce CRM uses a social networking model for internal communications. RightNow followed soon after with CX Suite, which integrates social media with everyday customer-facing processes. The companies have similar capabilities if you pick the right modules and options, with RightNow providing more reporting depth but Salesforce having the edge in dashboard presentation.

That said, the two companies have a very different approach to integrating social CRM. Salesforce has, for a long time now, presented itself as a toolbox or model kit. If you want live integration with your customers on Facebook, there’s a module for that. Want to rank and discuss enterprise content? You can do it. And if it isn’t available as a core piece of Salesforce CRM, you can get it on the AppExchange. RightNow CX Suite is also a toolkit, but it assumes you want to get close to your customers from the outset. Where Salesforce says, “You can do this if you want,” RightNow asks “Why aren’t you doing this already?”

One of the places the difference between RightNow and many of its competitors is clear is their customers. Now, everybody has great customer success stories—if you can’t get that in the CRM industry, you won’t last long—but RightNow’s feel different, in a good way.

With, and every other vendor for the most part, the customers we get to interview feel like they’ve been prepared. They all have bullet points to hit, and specific ROI results they want to mention. (Note: When a writer is planning a case study, these things are important, so it’s not like I dislike specifics. But in a general purpose interview, it’s not as necessary and can even be distracting.) In’s case, it’s important to have this kind of preparation, as that company tends to announce a lot of new features and options multiple times before they’re generally available, and then there will be follow-up press releases to remind us that module X has been out for a while. If Salesforce doesn’t vet its reference customers, there’s a fair chance the interview will go off the rails because we’re talking about different things.

RigtNow’s customers aren’t prepped much, if at all, because RightNow doesn’t have a never-ending list of preannouncements. I spoke with two great RightNow customers at the recent summit, Kim Rundleof Organic Valley and Rich Brecht of J&P Cycles. In both cases, the conversation was as natural as if we’d just met at a networking event and decided to talk about CRM. Well, it felt kind of like that, but with way more enthusiasm. This is how it is whenever I talk to a RightNow customer; I had an informal chat over lunch with Boyd Beasley of Electronic Arts, and it was a very similar experience. Each representative had things they liked, frictions with some stakeholders, and hopes and plans for what to do with their RightNow system in the future, but it all felt natural.

This difference in RightNow’s and’s approach to customers is indicative of deeper differences in how the two companies deal with messaging. I’m going to come right out and say that controls the conversation when it comes to SaaS CRM. They announce constantly, keeping their initiatives fresh in our minds. The press releases are usually worded dynamically, so you won’t dismiss them right after you start reading. And is at the stag where each announcement is for a discrete element of the overall solution, so you know what you’re getting.

By contrast, RightNow is very low-key about its announcements. Typically, there’s an announcement that something is in development, and the next time you hear about it is the GA press release. Whatever the new item is, it’s always presented as an update to the existing RightNow suite, since users of RightNow seem more likely to use the whole thing than the typical Salesforce mix-and-match approach. RightNow also has terrible luck with timing, because its announcements are usually either preceded or followed immediately by a piece from another vendor. It’s usually Salesforce, so I think that’s a matter of strategy and a loud voice combining to good effect. This means that the RightNow story—both the specific product-related one and the “company narrative”—can become lost if the journalist or analyst doesn’t stay focused on it. I’ve found it difficult to do, and I’m aware of the issue; others who aren’t as clued in have little hope.

That’s it for Part One. I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with’s side of the story this December.

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Message Perspectives: Sage and Nimble

Monday, September 20th, 2010

(Disclosure: Sage is a former client of mine.)

A theme running through the CRM industry’s discourse lately is that of social CRM. This is a good thing because it means I’ve started my practice in a hot market space. It also means there’s a lot of hype and hoopla coming from all corners of the vendor community. The old guard are adding social components to their CRM offerings, defending their honor as the vendors that have survived the Darwinian meat grinder of enterprise software; the newcomers are starting from the premise that old-school CRM has earned its supposedly negative reputation and it’s time for a fresh approach, hitching their wagons to the social trend.

Not long ago, I took a briefing with Larry Ritter, senior vice president and GM of CRM solutions for Sage North America, about the company’s plans for ACT! in 2011 and beyond. I thought I’d written briefly about it here, but it appears I was in error—apologies to Ryan Zuk, Sage’s PR ace, for my oversight.

Also not long ago (Monday, in fact), I took a briefing with Jon Ferrara, the creator of ACT!’s long-time rival GoldMine (now owned by FrontRange), and now the CEO and founder of Nimble. Nimble is one of the new wave of CRM vendors, while ACT! (and GoldMine, for that matter) represent CRM’s roots. The opportunity for me to compare and contrast is just too sweet to pass up.

Let’s start with Sage. As you can read here, the company has been doing a good job of following the will of its audience by adding more Web services, improving (and changing the name of) workflows, and keeping the design easy to use. ACT! is more of an entry-level CRM product than a premier suite—that distinction in Sage’s catalog fits better with SalesLogix—but it provides a good range of functions and customizability for its price and target market. The product has been around for more than 20 years in one form or another, and Sage knows better than to mess with success.

It is possible to integrate social networking features into ACT! if the customer desires, but it’s not something that comes in the yellow ACT! box. You’ve got to customize for that, which helps drive business for Sage’s army of partner-resellers. The message here is that Sage expects the typical ACT! user to be a small business that either doesn’t understand or isn’t likely to derive much value from social CRM, but there’s enough meat on ACT!’s bones for most SMBs to get an okay meal.

I should probably fault Sage more for this, but I just can’t work up a whole lot of indignation. While I am excited by the possibilities of a social approach to CRM, I know that not every business is ready for it, not every business can really exploit it, and the ones that fit those descriptions don’t want to pay for something they won’t use. Sage is saying, “We’re the same we’ve always been, and we’re here for you. We’ll let you move at your own pace.” This is a comforting message for an SMB executive who isn’t striving to push the business into the Fortune 500.

In the destinationCRM article I linked, CRM godfather Paul Greenberg makes an important distinction describing ACT!: “It’s as close to CRM as it ever will be,” Greenberg says of the contact management solution. “It will never be full-blown CRM — but do they provide business value to small businesses? Oh, God, yeah.” He is, as usual, right. ACT! is still very much a contact manager—one that can do some really neat things to be sure, but it’s still not a CRM suite. It can be turned into one, and the e-marketing module added to ACT! 2011 blurs the line a bit, but what we have here is one of the progenitors of modern CRM trying to remain viable (and succeeding, I think) by providing a safe, easy, entry-level option that can grow for a while with the user. At worst, I wonder why a contact management-plus application isn’t doing more with social networking contacts, but there doesn’t seem to be much grumbling about this by anybody other than curmudgeons like me.

Which brings us to Nimble. Jon Ferrara got out of the contact management business about 10 years ago to concentrate on building a family instead of a company. He’s back with a reimagined approach to CRM, built from the ground up to account for and take advantage of social media.

In our briefing, Jon hit a lot of the best talking points about social CRM. Businesses always need to attract and retain customers, and the old methods are becoming outdated. Companies must get as social as their customers, listen to the conversations, and participate in kind—and a company can’t be social externally without being social internally as well. So, if most of the CRM systems deployed today are used primarily for contact management and SFA anyway—a claim that rings true even if I don’t have any data in front of me to back it up—there’s a need for a system built to combine social networking and basic CRM.

Ferrara contends that Nimble is that product. When it becomes available, Nimble Core will give individual users the “3 Cs” of Contacts, Calendaring, and Communications by providing a single environment for viewing and sending emails, tweets, Facebook updates, and pretty much everything else, and will do it for free. The design of Nimble is as comforting as ACT!’s, in its way; it looks a lot like any of the current social networking tools in use by the general public, as well as more business-focused things like Yammer. There’s lots of white space, the view can be easily customized, and all the immediately relevant info (and only the immediately relevant info) is up front.

After Core, there will be more. For $9 per user per month, Nimble will provide a Team edition. For $19/u/m, the sales functionality shows up. If you go for the full $39/u/m, Nimble reveals its full CRM capabilities. Mind you, I have no idea what those are; all will be revealed at a later date.

No matter what I say about Nimble, it’s important to remember that the product is still in private beta. The higher-end functions—teamwork, SFA, and CRM—are a long way off yet. I haven’t touched the beta yet, though I will be doing so in the very near future.

When a veteran like Jon Ferrara fronts a product like Nimble, it says one thing: “It’s time for a change.” He’s got a point. GoldMine was one of the products that changed—nay, created—the CRM software industry, and Nimble is going to try to serve the same purpose for social CRM. The new discipline is composed of older, proven CRM apps augmented by new tools that only enable the social components, so a social CRM app designed to be a social CRM app would be a great start. The message is there’s a new wave in business, and you’ve got to surf it with a new board or get swamped riding the old.

My fear is that there will be too much focus on social and not enough on CRM. People like to say that CRM fails, or even that it is a failure. I disagree with the notion that a $12 billion industry, complete with innovators and success stories, is a failure. A change is necessary, because the behavior of customers has changed. But there are still things that a CRM system has to do that aren’t about social media, and there is danger that the move to social CRM will go like a political campaign: So much time is spent hearing about what’s wrong with the incumbent that we never get a handle on the challenger’s qualities.

Both ACT! and Nimble will have a place in the CRM world, and I’m not about to recommend one over the other (especially because one isn’t available yet). But you can start making your decision based on the language each company is speaking. Is Sage following a careful and sensible agenda, or is it in denial? Is Nimble the next game-changer, or is it a box of hype? Your answer to those questions will say more about your needs than about the products, but that’s good. If your choice doesn’t reflect your needs, you’ll have a failure on your hands no matter which way you turn.

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Do You Follow?

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

(Classic film note: When considering the title of this post, please try to hear it in your head as, “D’ye folla?”, in the voice of the late Robert Shaw as his character from The Sting, Doyle Lonnegan, would say it. It has nothing much to do with this post, but I love that movie, and there’s something about using a simple phrase like that to mean, “Agree with me or I will have you killed” that resonates with me.)

The latest blog from ZDNet’s David Gewirtz informs us of yet another failure of Twitter recordkeeping. It seems that Gewirtz’s following list vanished, as has happened to most of us at one time or another. Sometimes it’s because of a direct hack against an individual account or group of accounts, a Twitter-wide attack, or just a database error. Sometimes the service collapses altogether. Every other month or so, something bad wrong happens with our precious Twitter, and the Internets go crazy.

Chaos! Horror! It’s the end of social media as we know it! Those were my initial snarky thoughts when I read the article. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how true those thoughts were. I would absolutely freak out if all the people and organizations I followed became lost to me. If it happened to somebody who followed me, I’d be concerned as well—especially if it happened to several of them at once.

Twitter, for good or ill, has become our lifeline to what’s happening in the world beyond our immediate perception. It’s instant insight into Now, faster than the news and cheaper than a long-distance phone call. (No, I don’t use Skype.) It’s also a combination of soapbox and open-mic night for those of us who think our opinions matter. Businesses (at least the smart ones that know good advice when I offer it to them) use it as a free listening post for trends, brand crises, and potential new customers. Twitter is officially a Big Deal™.

We can live without Twitter quite easily. Someday we will live without it, because the technology or the format will be supplanted by something newer and probably better. But to have it suddenly cut off or limited it like losing one of the five senses.

I’m glad Gewirtz wrote about losing the list of people he follows. I probably would have gone in a much different direction if I’d just read an article about somebody’s followers all disappearing. Number of followers is a useful thing to know, but there are still people using the number in a “mine is bigger,” locker room braggart way, and that irks me. Having their follower number lopped off is something that should happen to a lot more people, to make them realize what’s important—communication, not collection.

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More Ciboodle, More SAS

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

So I took another briefing with Sword Ciboodle yesterday regarding its SAS-powered CRM suite for mid- to large enterprise. That makes something like four in the past two months. These folks really want to get the word out—when I worked at CRM magazine, we typically didn’t have editorial staff meetings as often.

I’ve already discussed Ciboodle One (the agent desktop) in this space, so I won’t repeat myself except to say that it’s probably the cleanest and best example of its ilk I’ve ever seen. I haven’t had as much time in front of the other elements, Ciboodle Flow and Ciboodle Live, at least until yesterday. Seeing the components working together made a better case for integrated CRM with top-flight analytics than anything I could say. Ciboodle gets it.

Ciboodle also treated me to a demo of Ciboodle Crowd, the last link in the chain. [Warning: Link contains unfiltered marketing content. Caveat lector.] Crowd is the social platform. More to the point, it’s the environment for companies to manage their participation in social CRM. Looks good, and it clearly isn’t dependent on any specific social media, so it can adapt as old players drop out and new ones appear.

All this is good for CRM, good for Ciboodle, for SAS, and also for consultants like me. SAS was smart enough to partner with Ciboodle to provide applicability and usability in CRM, and Ciboodle was smart to recognize the value of powerhouse business intelligence. Together they provide a suite with a lot of possibilities built in. And to their credit, the companies provide the services to back it up, so that the customer isn’t purchasing six-figure shelfware. Capgemini appears to be helping to achieve this end.

But vendor services can only take you so far. There are still too many potential buyers of Ciboodle’s suite who have only a vague idea of what they want from it, or who haven’t put their organizations through the sort of cultural and process evaluation needed to get the most out of the purchase. Mistakes can be made with those tools even when they’re used correctly, at least in a technical sense. A hammer and chisel work really well together, but you probably shouldn’t use them to defrost your freezer unless you’ve carefully considered how to do it and understand the risks involved. (I have done this, and despite due consideration managed to wreck a freezer by focusing on individual hammer blows instead of the big picture.)

When somebody decides they want to become an astronaut, the first step in that journey is not flight training and mission briefings; it’s learning about the job, the dangers, and the potential benefits. Ciboodle and SAS have built a mighty space vehicle, and they are providing top-notch training to anybody who enters the program. I get to be the career counselor who makes sure it’s a good fit, and I can definitely live with that.

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How Many Networks?

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

This is something I’ve had on my mind for a while, but haven’t found a convenient time to bring up. Of course, somebody else was able to do it first. Jason Perlow’s ZDNet blog, Tech Broiler, has his thoughts on the diminishing returns of an ever-expanding social network. I won’t summarize the post—it’s worth your time to read it yourself—but I will say that there’s more than enough frustration with Facebook’s security, permission structure, and communications model to inspire people to give up on it altogether. This doesn’t mean I intend to do so, but I understand.

Also, as a note to Mr. Perlow, one gaijin to another: Seppuku is traditionally performed with a knife (tanto) or short sword (wakizashi), not the katana.

That’s not really what I wanted to discuss, but it’s as good a segue as any. Perlow’s post made me think again about how the social media boom has affected the way we spend our time online. There are enough different social network services now that they don’t even really compete anymore—except in the sense that they all want you to spend more time with them than any other. Each has its own specific use profile, and most individuals would never consider using one for something other than its core value.

Let’s take me as an example. In addition to this blog, I actively use Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to varying degrees, as well as some old-school forums that match my interests; there’s some passive participation in other social media (gotta have YouTube access and various wikis), but that’s about it.

  • Twitter is my other broadcast and communication channel, the one I use when writing a proper blog post isn’t the way to go.
  • LinkedIn is my professional lifeline, the go-to option for exchanging ideas with subject matter experts, making sure I stay connected to people I don’t have regular contact with, and making myself available for hire.
  • Facebook is for fun and time-killing. I use it to keep in touch with high school friends, to catch the occasional interesting article somebody posts in their feed, and to play games.

There isn’t a whole lot of overlap between these big three, integrations notwithstanding. I couldn’t imagine trying to maintain a professional presence solely on Twitter, and the entertainment options of LinkedIn pretty much end with the Answers page. This means that each social network requires separate attention, and their sheer number means networking can be a full-time job. My reaction to Google Buzz was basically “Oh crap, one more thing to add to the list.” It took more of my time, and didn’t have a clear niche of its own, so I eventually opted out.

Facebook might be next for me, assuming I can break the addictive hold of Mafia Wars and Viking Clan. This is not solely because of anything inherently wrong with Facebook (though there’s plenty)—I’ve fallen into the trap of bigger = better. I have over 600 “friends” on Facebook, and I honestly don’t know who most of them are. The games I play there require a large network to get maximum value, so I made and accepted lots of friend requests. They are not my friends (except the ones I already knew outside of Facebook). I couldn’t pick them out of a police lineup. Some of them have social and political views that I can’t stand. But I keep them around anyway because they serve a function and because it’s too much trouble to weed them out.

Still, the more FB friends you have, the more messages you get. I hate leaving messages unviewed; I regularly check my email spam so I don’t have the feeling there’s something waiting for me, and it’s this feeling that made Buzz such a burden.

Connections on Twitter or LinkedIn don’t require the same level of supervision. I follow the people I want to follow, and it’s easy enough to unfollow them—and there’s only good in having lots of followers myself. LinkedIn doesn’t get in my way unless it’s an opportunity of some sort for me. Facebook just keeps poking at me, asking me to get back in touch with Friend X whom I’ve never met, or buy Godfather Points for my mob, or install a toolbar, or expand my permissions, etc. etc.

Honestly, I don’t think I’d mind any of it if there was an easier way to manage it. What I really want is a central control panel for all my networks that lets me choose what information is available to each, with bulletproof security so I don’t have to worry about getting all my networks jacked at once. After that, all I have to do is work on my self-control so I don’t play Bejeweled all weekend.

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Brand Warfare Goes Social

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised—if anything, the surprise is in how long we waited—that organizations are using social media to put pressure on other organizations. Recently, environmental activism group Greenpeace used a YouTube video to drive customer outrage against snack food producer Nestlé for its use of palm oil sourced from dwindling orangutan habitats.

The result was a ton of news coverage (from CNN, CNET, Forbes, BusinessWeek, The Guardian, and many others—thanks, Google), a practical shutdown of Nestlé’s Facebook page due to angry traffic, and what Greenpeace wanted: severance of the Nestlé relationship with Sinar Mas, the oil supplier accused of illegal deforestation.

Now, I loves me some KitKats. I am aware of the horrible toll they inflict on my health and I eat them anyway, though not so often that you have to worry about my imminent demise. I will continue to eat them in the future. But I’m glad that Greenpeace brought the palm oil problem to my attention, so I can watch for it in other foods. And you can be sure I’ll take a hiatus from my KitKat consumption. I would rather do without a yummy snack than condemn a piece of our world to death.

Side note: Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter Group was on the most recent Brian Lehrer Live to comment on this situation. (The social media aspect, not my fat butt and KitKat addiction.) I can’t find the video, so I’d appreciate it if somebody would link it in the comments.

Is this a good thing? Should the power that has finally come into the hands of the customer be co-opted by large and powerful groups to further their own ends? My opinion is a guarded yes. Greenpeace is the example at hand, and it is not trying to make a profit—it’s trying to increase awareness of the harm we do to the ecology in the name of profit. While the group has had its excesses (the term ecoterrorism has been applied to some of Greenpeace’s activities), it generally acts to expose a situation it finds worrisome, and lets public opinion do the rest.

As with everything else, there’s the potential for abuse. If there’s something we can learn from social media, it’s that stories spread fast and far, much more so than the truth behind the story can catch up. A brand can be destroyed by one person’s efforts—typically a customer with an axe to grind over shoddy merchandise or poor service. Imagine the damage that can be done by a large, well-funded, coordinated group with a much larger axe to grind. If the cause is just and no lies are told, then I’m okay with it. But what if it had been Hershey’s spreading the Nestlé story? Would we be as sanguine about chocolate maker A inflaming consumer outrage against chocolate maker B, gaining market share by levying accusations against its competitor in the guise of social justice? What if the allegations were untrue?

I don’t really care what happens to individual corporations. I care about customers losing their voice as they’re drowned out by louder ones. All I ask is that you evaluate a story before you spread it. That’s just part of the social contract, and it applies to social media just as much as it does to traditional talk.

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Mixed Media, Mixed Message

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Many of you know that I come from a print media background—mostly magazines, with a few books shuffled in. While I’ve moved on in my career to a place where most of my work seems to be electronic in nature—blogging, ebooks, social networking—I still have a soft spot for words on dead trees. So whenever somebody says that books, magazines, or newspapers are dying forms of media, I have to speak up.

Of course, nobody’s actually said that to me recently, so I need to stretch a bit. Just the other week, this brilliant video posted all over the Interwebs. While it turns out that it was prepared by a unit of Penguin Publishing, the message is no less valid. Make sure you watch and listen to the whole thing before you make up your mind.

Yes, it’s on YouTube. Yes, social networking has been a big deal long enough to go from fad to trend to established communication form. But there still has to be something to talk about. One can only get so deep into philosophy, current events, science, and art with Facebook or Buzz status updates. There will always be a place for physical media. These are major sources for big ideas.

New media can be the start of great print too. Social networking is a thousand different sociology experiments writ large, all happening at once. Good information on human behavior is there for the observing. Journalists get leads from Web sources all the time. And who’s to say that a hot exchange of tweets won’t inspire the next great novel—or that a blog won’t help us find out about it?

Sure, circulation and ad revenue are down, but that’s just good news for the trees. Executives must learn that the socialverse isn’t going away, and adjust print’s business practices to reflect this fact. I don’t have the answer yet, nor do they, but we’re working on it.

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What’s the Real Value?

Monday, March 1st, 2010

It’s important for us to stay current with the best thinking in the CRM industry, which is why I try to read the output of my friends and colleagues as much as possible. After falling behind a bit—there’s a lot out there that my blogroll doesn’t cover, must update—I ran across this excellent piece of opinionizing by Denis Pombriant, founder and principal analyst of Beagle Research Group.

Denis is without a doubt the world’s second smartest beagle. (Sorry man—I have a long-standing loyalty to Snoopy.) Clear thinking and the ability to look at the long-term effects of short-term actions make him a great source, and if I have nothing useful to say, I can always direct people to him. As usual, he’s spot on with his comments, so I’ll only add a few thoughts.

When Denis writes, “Too often in early markets customers buy market leading products regardless of their merits and vendors accommodate this need by bragging about market share,” he shows how eager so many of us are to follow the herd. Basing a business operations decision like CRM on market share is the grownup’s version of “all the cool kids are doing it.” It’s fair to include measurable market share—not necessarily leading, just on the charts—as one criterion of the buying decision, but it’s something that should be graded pass/fail. I might not even include it on my list unless there’s likely to be pushback from shareholders worried about where their money is going; there’s a place for small vendors, and not just for catering to customers with tight budgets.

Speaking of tight budgets, there’s this: “[T]ightness in the credit markets has caused a significant amount of demand destruction and that has changed the terms of selling.” I’ve been saying it for years, but it bears repeating that it’s much more important right now to hold onto existing customers than to find new ones. If you know what you need your CRM for—and you’d better—then you have a good head start on picking your vendor criteria. Allow yourself to be guided by what will provide the customer insight to keep your regulars on the balance sheet.

Kudos again to Denis for rocking the smarts.

Our Hero

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That’s Not What Twitter’s For

Monday, February 1st, 2010

I ran across an amusing little incident (via MetaFilter) that happened recently in San Francisco, and I felt I needed to share. Members of the Fred Phelps-led Westboro Baptist Church gathered recently for a protest outside the offices of Twitter. I’m going to be smart and stay well clear of discussing the ministry, its protest signs, or the counter-protest to their small rally—you can read and see more of that at either of these not-safe-for-work links—but I have to address what one of the protesters was reported to have said. To quote the Asylum article by Harmon Leon:

As the verbal assault continued, I raised my hand and asked the obvious: “Why Twitter? Does God hate Twitter?”

“We have not quarrels with Twitter. Twitter is a great platform,” stated a gray-haired WBC woman juggling several signs that could be interpreted as funny and ironic if they were actually funny and ironic. Gesturing to one of the younger WBC women, she added, “Meagan, she’s Twittering right now.”

But she explained the reason behind the protest: “Twitter should be used to tell the punks of doomed America that God hates you!”

As a staunch advocate of the use of social media, I have to say this shows a complete misunderstanding of how Twitter works, and reveals the difference between the old and new schools of mass communication. Protesting at the Twitter offices to get the platform to be used in one way or another presupposes that Twitter is a one-way channel that controls all the messages sent through it. It’s like seeing a soda can on the ground next to a recycling bin and complaining that the bin doesn’t reach out and pick up the can.

The new model of social engagement starts with interested parties reaching out to other interested parties. The correct action to take if you want Twitter to “tell the punks of doomed America that God hates you” is to start telling them yourself via Twitter.

Of course, that’s going to be somewhat problematic, since Twitter doesn’t work by telepathy. You can spout all the hate you want (subject to Twitter’s terms of service) but if nobody’s following you, you won’t be heard. The punks of doomed America aren’t going to follow these people to receive daily reminders of how a fringe group thinks they’re damned—well, the masochistic ones might—so the message dies. That’s how it is with social: If you want to reach people, you must have something worthwhile to say.

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What Financial Services Ads Don’t Say

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

We’ve been in this recession for a long time. What is it now, two years? (Answer: Yes. The National Bureau of Economic Research says it started in December 2007.) Businesses in all sectors have been hard pressed, especially financial services. That’s not really so surprising; the great sage Homer Simpson once said that beer was “the cause of and the solution to all of life’s problems,” and that sentiment applies fairly accurately to the stock market.

The desperation of the brokerages is plain to see if you catch their advertisements on TV or radio. Each is more eager than ever before to crow about its funds’ performance against this average or that index, as though it was the only company to have a clue how to make money in a down market. And each one’s advice is the same: Switch to us right now.

This is bad advice for just about everybody. The reason it’s bad is that things are tough all over. If any particular financial advisor was significantly outperforming the rest, we likely wouldn’t be in a recession, and that advisor would be raking in the bucks (even more than usual, since they profit by skimming the action like a casino does). Even Goldman Sachs, the company with more Washington influence than should be legal, is having its share of woes. Every broker has some funds that are doing well, and some that aren’t.

On the flip side of this, there are some Internet brokers advertising their own services on the premise that relationships are worthless. They suggest your relationship with your broker is a sham that only benefits the broker. For some people, this might be true. For others, there might not be a need to pay a commission to somebody else for your own informed financial decisions.

Changing your financial advisor is a major step, not something you do because of a commercial. In fact, making any change to your portfolio on a whim is generally a bad idea, though there are still day traders who think the path to success is rapid buying and selling. Successful investing is about patience, long-term plans, and—this is key—the relationship you have with your advisor. If you’re comfortable with your advisor, and believe they understand and are capable of helping you achieve your goals, you’re in the right place.

I’m open to disagreement on these points, as always. FinServ is not the business where I’m smartest, and the preceding post is heavily influenced by the opinions of people I respect and who know better. But isn’t that exactly what I’m talking about with relationships?

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